Bill O'Brien keeps sending Ryan Fitzpatrick out into desert over and over again, hoping that the play he's seeing from his strange handpicked quarterback choice is somehow just a mirage.
No matter how much O'Brien force feeds Fitzpatrick, NFL reality just keeps staring him back in the face though. Fitzpatrick isn't a very good quarterback and all the coaching in the world cannot change that.
In his first preview in the Houston Texans starting quarterback role, Fitzpatrick only brings the house down on his own team's head in a 32-0 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He throws two interceptions, comes an Arizona drop away from throwing another. He chucks passes short of receivers. He completes a one-yard pass on third-and-eight.
It's a very Matt Schaub like performance. And we're not talking Matt Schaub of 2011.
O'Brien so clearly — and rather desperately — wants to make Fitzpatrick's performance into something else. The new Texans coach plays Fitzpatrick the entire first half, a nearly unheard of run for a starting quarterback in the first preseason game.
Why not give Keenum an equal chance and see what he does? What's there to be afraid of?
O'Brien seems determined to give Fitzpatrick some semblance of confidence. Instead the ultra extended playing time in preseason Game One indicates just unsure the Texans coaches are about their quarterback. You don't play your starting quarterback for five series on August 9, if you truly believe you have a starting quarterback.
Unfortunately, O'Brien's Uncle Fitz Marathon also robs the Texans of getting a real look at a possible better option.
Case Keenum — who showed more flashes of big play brilliance in his oft-interrupted eight-game run last season than Fitzpatrick has in nine full unremarkable, turnover-marred seasons — only gets five pass attempts in the Texans lost Saturday night in the desert due to the Fitzpatrick force feeding.
Tom Savage — the raw rookie quarterback from Pittsburgh — sees even less work, getting off only three passes in two series before ending his own night with a sack safety that leaves him rubbing his face.
This isn't just a lost night. It's a lost opportunity.
A chance to see what Keenum — and even to a lesser extent, Savage — can do is completely blown because of the uncertainty over what Fitzpatrick can do.
"It's a team effort," O'Brien insists when asked about Fitzpatrick in his postgame press conference, shown live on HoustonTexans.com. "Nobody played well on offense. It wasn't this guy, it wasn't that guy."
An NFL starting quarterback is not supposed to be just another guy though. Fitzpatrick ends up 6 of 14 for 55 yards, those two interceptions and a scary looking 14.2 quarterback rating. Yes, 14.2.
Afterwards, the 31-year-old Harvard man talks about how important "perspective" is in the NFL. It's a nice, measured thought — one that normally would apply to any preseason game. Preseason games are largely completely meaningless. Except when you look this completely overmatched.
Now the perspective that suddenly seems most relevant is the one that deemed Fitzpatrick the second worst starting quarterback in the entire NFL. (And truth be told, Matt Cassel would be completely justified in asking for an immediate recount after this weekend.)
Fitzpatrick's play in Arizona once again begs the question: Why aren't the Texans having an open quarterback competition?
This idea that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the unquestioned best option is laughable. Why not give Keenum an equal chance and see what he does? What's there to be afraid of?
It sure looks like Fitzpatrick could use a little push. We've already heard that Johnny Manziel doesn't fit this new Texans system. Now Keenum too . . . ? If only Ryan Fitzpatrick fits into Bill O'Brien's system, there might be something wrong with the system.
Bill O'Brien's Offensive Vision
The good news is that the Texans actually showed almost none of O'Brien's system in the desert. There's bare bones — and then there's what the Texans ran against the Cardinals. Many Texas high school programs employ a much greater variety of plays than the Texans display on this night. And that's by design.
It will be surprising if O'Brien shows any of his offense's winkles before that Sept. 7 opener against RGIII and the Redskins.
There will be plenty of wrinkles too. If you don't realize the Texans are using those completely closed off afternoon training camp practices in the bubble to put in a few special plays as well, then you're beyond naive.
Just putting a more creative game plan in Fitzpatrick's hands isn't going to stop the type of blunders he made against the Cardinals though. On a night when his team needs him to appear in command, Fitzpatrick looks as jittery as a Red Bull addict. Even when he finally gets a drive going on his last series — hitting slot receiver Mike Thomas for a 24-yard gain, showing near Keenum-like mobility on a 25-yard quick scramble up the middle — Fitzpatrick ruins it all with a brain-locked decision that results in an interception at the Cardinals' 15.
O'Brien's Uncle Fitz Marathon robs the Texans of getting a real look at a possible better option.
All the Texans have in Arizona are J.J. Watt's unstoppable talent (No. 99 flies in for sack on the second play of the game, one of the very few plays he's on the field for) and Jadeveon Clowney's supersized promise (the no-brainer No. 1 pick choice absolutely destroys Cardinals tailback Stepfan Taylor five yards behind the line of scrimmage in one memorable moment). Houston certainly doesn't have a real starting quarterback.
Keenum looks like he's the most poised quarterback on O'Brien's roster in his short, 10-play third quarter stint, converting a second-and-12 with a 15-yard pass to former Texas A&M wide receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu. But with the forced Fitzpatrick marathon, Keenum does not get enough time to have anything close to a real chance.
There's your real, unforgivable loss of the night.